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Photographing Moonrise

February 10, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Moon Rising over La Sal MountainsMoon Rising over La Sal MountainsThe Full Moon begins peeking over the La Sal Mountains in southeast Utah.

Photographing landscapes with the rising moon at Full Moon time requires some planning, as well as luck. Especially in regard to the weather.

Oh sure, you could just "Photoshop" a separate shot of the moon into any landscape image you have. But besides being cheating (unless you clearly label the composite image as a photo illustration), you would be robbing yourself of the thrill of the hunt. Your choice.

The things you need to know are when and where. The moon does not rise straight East any more than the Sun does. It swings further north or south according to the time of year (unless you are on the Equator, I suppose).

Besides that, the date on the calendar listed as "Full Moon" may not be the best evening for your shots. Often the evening before the calendar Full Moon is the best day of the month. You have to be ready on both dates. Think of it as twice the opportunity, twice the fun.

As to exactly when and where it will rise, there are plenty of sunrise/sunset websites where you can look up for that. On them, take note of how closely moonrise is to sunset on the day before Full Moon, and then the day of.

I look for when the moon will be just up and it's still light, or just after sunset. You want detail in your landscapes, and the moon rises approximately 45 minutes (that varies a bit, too) later each day.

An even better aid is the website The Photographer's Ephemeris (photoephemeris.com), which lists moonrise, sunset, and also moonset times. But even more helpful is the Azimuth that everything occurs at. Azimuth is the direction, in degrees, on the compass. Zero and 360 are North, 90 is East, 180 is South, and 270 is West. (There is also a think called magnetic Declination, look it up.) So if the moon is going to rise at, say, Azimuth 70 degrees, that's 20 degrees north of due East (90), and you'd better take that into account. It won't be the same each month, either.

Another factor is that the moon, like the sun, does not rise straight up into the sky. It arcs. And anything other being really flat--like being on the plains, or on the seashore--delays how long after official Moonrise it will appear above whatever landscape you have in mind. How long? Well you will have to get some experience in your area and for your subjects, but with mountain ranges here in the western U.S. it's often 20 minutes. Maybe a more depending on how close you are to the mountain or whatever is in front. And since it's arcing, it's going to be more to the right than if you had been on a flat plain.

In the first photo above, the moon is just peeking over the La Sal Mountain Range in southeast Utah. Official Moonrise had been a good 20 minutes before. Which means that it's already arcing to the right, toward the Southeast. We can plainly see that from the other photos in the series.

Moonrise, La Sal MountainsMoonrise, La Sal MountainsThe Full Moon rising over the La Sal Mountains in February 2015.

Why is the night before official Full Moon better sometimes, while at other times the next night is? It's because Full Moon is when the moon is 100% illuminated by the sun. If that moment occurs a second before Midnight, the calendar will show Full Moon as being on that day. But if the moment of 100% occurs a second after Midnight, it will show it as being on the next day. The moon is fully illuminated when it rises exactly opposite the sun. That could be when it's on the other side of the world from where you are, in the middle of the day.

Moon Rising at Dusk, La Sal MountainsMoon Rising at Dusk, La Sal MountainsThe full moon has risen over the La Sal Mountains as the twilight colors fade.

That's why a guide like The Photographer's Ephemeris is so helpful in planning when to be out there. Look at the day before Full Moon, and the day of. It's best to be out both evenings. Especially since the weather is going to shut you out at least several Full Moons of the year.

More importantly, watch that calendar for when Full Moon is, and be aware of what's going on for what you would like to include in the scene. And most of all: have fun!

Photo Location: San Juan County in southeast Utah, between Moab and Monticello.

© 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

 

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San Juan River to Cedar Mesa, Utah in January

January 26, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Moki Dugway View in WinterMoki Dugway View in WinterView from the upper portion of the Moki Dugway series of switchbacks on Utah-261 as it climbs from the San Juan River Valley up onto Cedar Mesa in southern San Juan County, Utah.

January in southern San Juan County, Utah. A good winter, moisture wise: the mountain watersheds have about twice the normal amount of water content, projecting a lush green springtime.

In the meantime I enjoy the wintry views. Snowy in the high elevations, dry below.

Sand Island Launch Site - San Juan River, UtahSand Island Launch Site - San Juan River, UtahPicnic area overlooking the San Juan River at Sand Island Recreation area, Utah.

From the San Juan River town of Bluff I drive west on US 163 to the Bureau of Land Management's Sand Island Recreation Area. A ranger station (closed for the winter), boat launch on the river, and campground. Nobody around.

Boat Landing, Sand Island, San Juan River, UtahBoat Landing, Sand Island, San Juan River, UtahThe lower San Juan River at Sand Island Recreation Area, between Bluff and Mexican Hat, Utah, in January.

The site also has the Sand Island Petroglyph Panel, a fantastic sandstone wall of ancient inscriptions pecked into the patina (dark coating on the rock). Most of the inscriptions are 700 to thousands of years old.

Sand Island Petroglyph Panel Interpretive SignSand Island Petroglyph Panel Interpretive SignAn interpretive sign at the parking area for the Sand Island Petroglyph Panel at Sand Island Recreation area, southeast Utah.

Petroglyph Panel, Sand IslandPetroglyph Panel, Sand IslandPetroglyphs (inscriptions, figures pecked into rock) at Sand Island Recreation Area in southern San Juan County, Utah. Rock Inscriptions, Sand Island Petroglyph Panel, UtahRock Inscriptions, Sand Island Petroglyph Panel, UtahFigures pecked into the sandstone face of the cliff at Sand Island Recreation Area on the San Juan River in southeast Utah.

From Sand Island I return to US 163 and head further west. Through the cut at Comb Ridge, the last frustrating barrier to the Hole In The Rock Expedition of Mormons that settled the town of Bluff. More on that later in this post.

A few miles before reaching the hamlet of Mexican Hat, I turn north on Utah-261, a mostly paved and flat highway connecting 163 with Utah-95. It will cross the length of Cedar Mesa while it does so.

Goosenecks of the San Juan River, UtahGoosenecks of the San Juan River, UtahThe view of the river far below from Goosenecks State Park, near Mexican Hat, Utah.

Utah-261 passes the entrance road to Goosenecks of the San Juan State Park, overlooking the deepest entrenched meander in the world. That's more of the San Juan River down there, looking infinitely different than it did between the low bluffs at Sand Island.

Utah-261 Approaching the Moki Dugway and Cedar MesaUtah-261 Approaching the Moki Dugway and Cedar MesaHighway 261 warning sign as it approaches the Moki Dugway switchbacks up onto Cedar Mesa.

Approaching the southern escarpment of Cedar Mesa on Hwy. 261, you are greeted by warning signs that there are steep, narrow switchbacks ahead. Not recommended for trucks, RVs, trailers. Why? Look. You will go from down here up onto that mesa. How, you ask? You will find out. On the Moki Dugway, Above San Juan River ValleyOn the Moki Dugway, Above San Juan River ValleyHalfway up the Moki Dugway section of Utah-261, looking down on the San Juan River Valley portion of the highway.

This section of Hwy. 261 is called the Moki Dugway. A "dugway" is a section of road that had to be excavated ("dug") out of the hillside. By hand, or using heavy equipment, and explosives, whatever it took. Other than this section, Highway 261 is paved and very gentle.

The Moki Dugway Switchbacks, Cedar Mesa, UtahThe Moki Dugway Switchbacks, Cedar Mesa, UtahA viewpoint on the Moki Dugway section of Utah Highway 261, overlooking the lower switchbacks above the San Juan River Valley.

Once on top, you have about 25 miles of lonely Cedar Mesa to look around at, with its high desert pygmy forest of Pinon Pine and Utah Juniper trees.

Utah 261 ends at its intersection with Utah-95, the highway from Blanding to the Colorado River in Glen Canyon and beyond to Hanksville. On this day, it was snowy again. Snow showers, the road surface lightly coated but not too bad.

Utah-95 on Cedar Mesa, JanuaryUtah-95 on Cedar Mesa, JanuaryHighway 95 on Cedar Mesa in San Juan County, Utah in January.

Turning east toward Blanding I come to the high point, elevation 7,110 feet at Salvation Knoll. There is a turnoff there with a new (2016) commemorative display of interpretive signs honoring the Hole In The Rock pioneers that traversed this then-wilderness with families, wagons, and livestock on their way to settle Bluff, Utah on the San Juan River.

Salvation Knoll, San Juan County, Utah in JanuarySalvation Knoll, San Juan County, Utah in JanuaryThe turnout on Utah-95 at Salvation Knoll, commemorating the hill where Mormon scouts of the Hole In The Rock Expedition arrived on Christmas Day 1879 to re-orient themselves as to possible routes for the wagons across Cedar Mesa.

Why is it called Salvation Knoll? Because ahead of the main party of wagons there were scouts looking for the most feasible route across Cedar Mesa, having already crossed the Colorado River in Glen Canyon at the perilous Hole In The Rock crack down to the river.

Those Mormon scouts, out of food and in the snow of late December, were lost and seemingly close to despair. On Christmas Day in 1879 they climbed a nearby hill to try to get their bearings on this vast landscape. From this point they could see the Abajo Mountains to the northeast. That sighting gave them confidence as to where they were. So they called it Salvation Knoll.

And on this January day in 2017 I took some more photos of what it might well have looked like to them then, hungry and cold but intrepidly carrying on for the good of the rest far behind them.

There were a lot more hardships for the pioneers to overcome before they reached what would become the Bluff townsite. Amazingly, not a single person died on the journey, and besides that two babies were born. Salvation Knoll, Cedar Mesa, UtahSalvation Knoll, Cedar Mesa, UtahHole In The Rock Expedition interpretive signs at Salvation Knoll overlooking Cedar Mesa, San Juan County, Utah.

Photo location: southern San Juan County, southeast Utah.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

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Grand Canyon In Snow

January 20, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Grand Canyon South Rim in WinterGrand Canyon South Rim in WinterA view down into the Canyon from the upper Bright Angel Trail just below the South Rim.

Many visitors to Grand Canyon National Park are unaware of the beauty it portrays in the snow. Not only are the crowds far lighter, but the road out to Hermits Rest is open to the public, unlike the rest of the year when you must take one of the free shuttle buses. That allows you to visit all the Hermit Road overlooks whenever you want, in you own vehicle, without standing freezing at the bus stop.

The South Rim averages about 7,000 feet (2,134 m) in elevation, the same as Flagstaff, the nearest small mountain city 90 miles away. That can mean a lot of snow in the middle of winter. If you get the chance to go to Grand Canyon at that time of year, do it.

Just don't plan on also visiting the North Rim. It is about 1,000 feet higher, much more remote, and so is closed to the public in winter, until May 15.

Photo location: Upper Bright Angel Trail, South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.

© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

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Rico, Colorado, in black and white

January 07, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Rico, Colorado black and white photograph, Rico Community Church and Town Hall building.Rico, ColoradoThe historic Rico Community Church and the Rico Town Hall building (formerly the Dolores County Courthouse building) in Rico, Colorado in the San Juan Mountains.

Rico, Colorado in November. The high peaks are beginning to show new snowpack, but down in town on the banks of the Dolores River at 8,825 feet (2,690 m) the streets are still snow free, the aspen forests now bare of leaves.

The historic buildings of this former silver mining town are still quite stately. The Community Church is just up the street from the orange brick Town Hall building, which once was the Dolores County Courthouse building before the County Seat was moved to Dove Creek. Built in 1891, the building was restored in the 1980s.

"Rico" is Spanish for "rich", named after the silver ore deposits that were once mined starting in the 1870's.

Rico Community Church, Rico, Colorado, in black and white photographyRico Community Church, Rico, ColoradoThe stately and historic Rico Community Church gleams in the high elevation November sunlight in the former silver mining town in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado.

Photo location: Rico, Dolores County, southwest Colorado.

© Copyright Stephen J. Krieg

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